Preventative care

Dr Melanie Salmon, Somerset West

I was very moved by the publication of an article by Debbie Wybrow (“Changing the narrative for SA’s children”, Bolander November 1), and their work to help children in need, particularly those who are desperate.

I am a medical doctor and am in the field of preventive trauma care in Somerset West. For the past eight years I have been educating, teaching and training practitioners to work with traumatised individuals and children in all sectors of South African society.

Prevention of child abandonment and neglect by a carer is possible. I recently made an application to the Department of Social Development for 2018 to work with carers in the 0-to-5-year-old age group to prevent neglect and trauma to this vulnerable age group. I hope I get an opportunity to do so.

How does a mother abandon her child to die? What must be the state of her mind and nervous system to be so hardened to this totally counter-intuitive, counter-maternal act?

The condition is called “freeze” – it is a state of complete numbing of the brain and nervous system when an individual has had severe or chronic trauma. An example might be rape. Freeze creates detachment from feelings with dire consequences on child care.

Harvard University Research shows unequivocally that infants who do not receive “bonding’ attention and care from their immediate care-taker, cannot develop the brain and nervous system adequately.

The critical stage for brain growth is 0 to 3 years. Once this has been missed the child is subject to repeated trauma and PTSD throughout life. They are not able to learn and usually present with ADD and ADHD, which we are now witnessing as an epidemic.

If care-giving is adequate, meaning the mother can emotionally bond with her child, the child acquires a resilient nervous system and normal brain growth, setting him up for a life on every level.

In 2009 I returned to SA from 35 years as a UK doctor. I brought with me a powerful tool: Trauma Releasing Exercises (TRE), which has already reached thousands of South Africans nationwide.

I am now interested in focusing on preventive care, specifically pregnant mothers and carers of 0 to 5 age group. With simple education and TRE, we can achieve wellness and connectedness to self/others in a short time frame at little cost. It is also 100% safe and crosses language and cultural barriers and can be done in groups with no equipment necessary.

If we could put into effect a programme of prevention to identify pregnant mothers and new parents who are at risk, and give them a simple three-month programme of supportive education and TRE, we would prevent the current situation of abandonment and infant neglect.